Raw Herring on Flag Day in the Netherlands

Scheveningen is a coastal area a cycle swoosh through leafy avenues from the centre of Den Haag (The Hague). There are all the familiar tacky trinket shops and ice-cream stalls you might expect to find at the British seaside – but the sweep of the beach feels greater because the land is flat, and the beachside bars and cafes lend it more vibrancy.

Once a year, you can go to Scheveningen to eat lovely little herring fishies fresh from the sea while tapping your feet to live music below flags from all over the world above Kaiser street, and beside Dutch flags tied to the masts of the ships in the harbour. All these flags are there for Vlaggetjesdag – or Flag Day. At its conception, Flag Day was the day ships in the harbour were decorated with flags prior to Pentecost (the feast commemorating the descent of the Holy Spirit on the Apostles). After Pentecost, these ships would sail out to catch the first herring of the herring season. Today Flag Day still marks the beginning of herring season. In winter the herring are ‘too skinny’, but by summer they are fat enough – they have to have 16% fat to lubricate the throat well enough for the Dutch language to survive. Okay, I kid, but locals will tell you it’s said herring is supposed to help with the harsh sounds the Dutch requires speakers to make.

The herring are cleaned and salted on the ships and their heads removed then sold at stands covered with raw chopped onion to be eaten whole by holding the tail and dropping the fish into the mouth, or served on a bun.

The festival takes place in the day, so its a good family day out. There are stalls selling cheeses and Dutch foods along Kaiser street. By the harbour is a huge warehouse that opens its doors for the day. Inside you’ll find white fish in batter called kibbeling, which is truly delicious, as well as craft stalls and at various points a choir of elderly people connected to industry in the area.